The John Radcliffe Hospital

On Thursday I visited a friend who was being treated at the John Radcliffe Hospital, a great sprawling modern series of buildings in the leafy suburbs of Headington, Oxford.

What has this to do with Wolverton? Well, the forerunner of this hospital was the Radcliffe Infirmary, established by Dr John Radcliffe’s estate in 1759, and, paid for out of the rents collected from the Wolverton Manor. Dr Radcliffe purchased the manor in 1713 for £40,000. He got 2,500 acres of farmland (at the time yielding valuable income) and the whole of the east side of Stony Stratford’s High Street, which had several large inns such as the Bull, the Three Swans, the Horseshoe and the Red Lion – all contributing to the rent total. The annual income from the estate was about £2,700. This seems like a piffling amount today, but in the 18th century it was quite enough to support the Radcliffe Library and pay for the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford.

The 18th century was a great age for building new hospitals. Northampton’s Infirmary opened in 1743. Edinburgh had a new one in 1729 and Winchester in 1736. In that context Oxford was a little late but the process did begin in 1747. It took time. First there was difficulty about acquiring land and then there were delays in building, but eventually the foundation stone was laid on 27 August 1759 at the 5 1/2 acre site on the Woodstock Road.  The building was mainly completed in 1767 but it took until 3 July 1771 for the formal opening ceremony to take place. The cost had been high. The Trustees had originally planned to spend £4000, but with the delays and additions the total bill came in at £12,791 15s. 6d. – just over 10 years’ net rents collected from Wolverton.

In the next century, new wards were added together with additional buildings to meet the demands of a growing population. The Radcliffe Trust continued to make a capital investment, but that was all. The city and the county and individual citizens were expected to contribute towards the operating costs of the infirmary. Doctors were expected to donate their time as a public service; it being assumed that they were well enough compensated by the fees of their prosperous patients. Nursing too, had yet to emerge as a profession, so the day-to-day operation of the hospital was largely entrusted to orderlies, who may not have been well paid.  In that regard the infirmary was a relatively cheap operation in the 18th century.

At around the same time as the Radcliffe Infirmary’s first phase had been completed the Trust acquired an adjacent field to build an observatory. Nobody at the time saw a conflict but towards the end of the 19th century, as the Infirmary (by this time the County Hospital) needed to encroach upon the Observatory land to satisfy the demands of a growing population. There was resistance from the Observatory who believed that their line of sight would be impeded by new buildings and that chimneys would cloud the atmosphere. They were probably right, but two Trustees, who gave their names to Wolverton streets, Sir William Anson and Lord Peel, found themselves on opposite sides of the argument. Anton favoured Infirmary expansion; Peel did not. In the end the demands of people overcame the unimpeded view of stars.

Wrangling continued for some years in the early 20th century until the intervention of William Morris in 1927. He was willing to make a substantial contribution to the development of the hospital, but only upon the condition that the land housing the Observatory be made available. The Radcliffe Trust, who ha in any case been considering moving the observatory, concluded that this would now be the time. They set a price of £100,000 on the land, which was accepted without demur, and it was sold in 1930. Morris could call upon wealth that far outstripped that of the 18th century John Radcliffe and the combined site became the Sir William Morris Institute of Medical Research, later changed to Nuffield after Morris’s elevation to the peerage.

Map of Headington Manor showing the proposed site development.

The Radcliffe name more-or-less disappeared at this point at the main infirmary, but earlier, in 1919, the Radcliffe Trust had purchased the Manor of Headington as a site to treat tuberculosis patients. In 1960 this site was chosen to build a new hospital, and by this time the NHS was steering the ship. The site was chosen for a maternity hospital and John Radcliffe’s name was chosen.  And in 1982, when Oxford’s hospitals were centralised at Headington the name of John Radcliffe was preserved as the “Churchill John Radcliffe Hospital”. In 1994 “Churchill” was dropped and it has been known since as the John Radcliffe Hospital.

Another Early Map of Wolverton

Sometimes little gems turn up in unlikely places. I found this plan, folded, in a box of Radcliffe Trust documents in the Bodleian Library
in Oxford. Let me explain why the plan was made and then I will comment on what it tells us.

The early inhabitants of Wolverton, having no back gardens, were given allotments. In the 1840s this was about the only way of organising your own vegetable supply, there being no greengrocers in Wolverton. The first allotments were laid out in the eastern field by the canal at some distance from the houses. However some of the Bury street residents, quickly realising that their back yards opened directly onto a field decided to help themselves. This is the field coloured in red on the plan. Some even kept pigs.

The farmer complained to his landlord, the Radcliffe Trust and the Trustees called in Mr John Driver to investigate and make a report, which he did on April 14th 1847. He did recommend selling more land to the LNWR for allotments, but his more sensational recommendation was to build a six foot hush brick wall around the railway property. This was to be built at the railway company’s expense and I suspect that it was never built.

What Mr Driver did leave behind is this interesting plan of Wolverton in 1847. The green coloured area was the extent of railway Wolverton at the time, although it may not be entirely up-to-date as the second Engine Shed, on the east side of the line was certainly started in 1845, and the Gas Works had also moved by this time. So there are some curious anomalies here. The Royal Engineer, for example, is outside Wolverton on Radcliffe Trust land. This is because it was a condition of sale to the railway company that no licences premises would be permitted on railway property. This also explains the location of the Radcliffe Arms in that field which later became Wolverton Park.

I have told the tale of the Radcliffe Arms before, where two enterprising Stony Stratford businessmen  took out a long lease on these four acres and rushed to complete their new hotel by 1839, next to the first railway station, only to learn the following year that the railway company had moved the station to a new location. The Radcliffe Arms was thus isolated from the town, and indeed travellers, but what this plan shows is that they finally had decided to build a new Radcliffe Arms beside the road. This is pretty much the spot where the third station was built n 1881.

We can also note from this map that the extension of Creed, Ledsam and Young Streets is about to start. Some rough pencil lines indicate the proposed terraces.

The new road to Stratford had been cut through in 1844 but the approach road to the station still comes from the west, as if carriages would come from the Od Wolverton Road. It seems that this was certainly the case when Queen Victoria arrived here to spend the Christmas of 1844 at Stowe. Instead of taking the new direct road she processed down to the old road and thence to Stony Stratford. I suppose the hairpin bend shown on this map caused some royal nervousness!

The Radcliffe Trustees – Later Members

Viscount Peel

After the original four trustees, who all died in the 1730s within a few years of each other, the number was increased to five. In most cases these men served until their deaths, and then new appointments were made. Many of them therefore served for about twenty years before they were replaced.

Mos of the 18th and 19th century trustees were titled men – dukes, earls, viscounts, baronets and there was even one son of Queen Victoria, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. Two Prime Ministers, Robert Peel and William Gladstone also served. Peel put in 22 years and Gladstone 33.

When Wolverton was expanded westwards in the early 1900s, some of the trustees gave their names to Wolverton Streets – Jersey Road, named after the 7th Earl of Jersey, Anson Road after Sir William Reynell Anson, Peel Road, after Viscount Peel, and Woburn Avenue after the 11th Duke of Bedford.

The practice of appointing trustee from the titled and their relatives seems to have continued. The only exception  can find is the appointment of the distinguished astronomer Fred Hoyle who came from relatively humble origins. He served as a trustee from 1960 to 1973.

The Radcliffe Trustees; The Original Four

Sir William Bromley

As I have remarked before, the Radcliffe Trust has an important influence on the history of Wolverton. It was the controlling influence from 1714 to 1838 when the railways arrived and an uneasy partner with the railway company in the 19th century. In the 20th century, with the growing importance of local and county councils, the power of the Trust receded, although they were able to block further industrial development until 1960. After 1970 the Trust was left in possession of Wolverton House and Wolverton Mill. These were later sold.

The Wolverton Manor produced the income which funded three important Oxford institutions – The Radcliffe Library, The Radcliffe Infirmary and the Radcliffe Observatory. The trustees were all men (and they were all men) of some importance. Nowadays we might describe them as “the great and good”. They probably had no direct dealings with Wolverton or even visited the manor. They were only concerned that the manor was well managed and the expected revenue was produced.

The original Trustees were: The Right Honourable William Bromley, Sir George Beaumont, Thomas Bacon and Anthony Keck. They were all Tories, politically and they were also Oxford men, more importantly, they were all good friends and drinking companions of John Radcliffe

Anthony Keck had worked for Dr Radcliffe for many years as his financial advisor and it was appropriate that he continued in ths role. He was probably instrumental in organizing, or at least ensuring continuity of management, of the Wolverton estate. Both he and Bromley did come to Stony Stratford once to meet Thomas Battison, the incumbent estate manager.

Thomas Sclater was a successful lawyer and MP for Cambridge from 1722 to his death in 1736. He added the name Bacon when he married Elizabeth Bacon, thirty years his junior, and inherited her estates. When he died he was worth over £200,000. He mixed with many of the leading lights of the day and like Radcliffe he was a Tory. He is principally remembered today for the sale of his vast library in 1736.

Sir William Bromley was also a Tory MP and became Speaker of the House of Commons. He lived from 1663 to 1732 and was descended from an old Staffordshire family whose ancestry extended back to King John’s reign. 

Bromley’s political career began in 1690, when, as a tory, he was elected knight of the shire for his county. Though he took little part in proceedings during his first years in the Commons, he aligned himself with the ‘country’ opponents of the ministry. He became respected for his great personal integrity. 

During the early years of Queen Anne’s reign Bromley played an increasingly conspicuous role in the tory-dominated House of Commons, but did not endear himself to the ministry. During the years 1702–5 he held the chair of the committee of privileges and elections, and he was a commissioner of public accounts from 1702 until 1704.

Bromley remained MP for Oxford University up to his death, and in 1714 became a trustee of the considerable bequest to the university made by his friend Dr John Radcliffe. 

Sir George Beaumont was MP for Leicester and also educated at Oxford. He practised law and during his parliamentary career held office as Commissioner of the Privy Seal and a Lord of the Admiralty. He died in 1737

The 18th Century Land Agents

The acquisition of the Wolverton Estate from Sir Edward Longueville in 1713 by Dr John Radcliffe, a year before his death was a transformational event in the history of the Wolverton Manor. It was probably not intended to be. Radcliffe probably imagined that he had a few years left to play an active role in his new investment, but it was not to be. He died on 1 November 1714, possibly withgout ever having visited Wolverton. Radcliffe hadnever married and had no heirs, so he invested his fortune (which was considerable) in a trust which was to build a library and an infirmary at Oxford, amongst other projects. The income from the Wolverton estate – over £2,500 per annum and a significant income in those days – was to fund these projects.

The early death of Radcliffe meant that almost from the outset of his ownership the manor was run by a committee. Over the centuries many eminent men filled the positions of trustees and they met periodically while handing over the running of the trust to a secretary. All of these men were distant from Wolverton and the man on the ground, as it were, was the land agent, who had the stewardship of Wolverton.

Sir Edward Longueville had employed a man called Thomas Battison in this capacity, although Sir Edward, living in Wolverton, no doubt had a more hands on approach to control. Dr Radcliffe took on the services of Battison’s son John in this capacity.John Battison lived at Quinton. Battison was employed at a salary of £40 a year.

Although Battison had the local knowledge and was probably effective when dealing with tenants he seemd to be a little out of his depth in dealing with the requirements of the trustees. Whereas he was previously able to make a verbal report to the likes of Sir Edward, the trustees required him (and they themselves were legally liable) to produce annual accounts. battison appeared to have difficulty with this an it took him until 1718 before he produced his first set of accounts. It also became apparent that many of the rents were in arrears and by 1720 these arrears amounted to £2,438 – over a full year’s income for the estate. Under pressure from the trustees these arrears were reduced in succeeding years, but the practice continued in greater or lesser degree.

Nonetheless the trustees persisted with Battison for many years and it was only in 1739, when they became aware that Battison was letting some woodland and keeping it off the books, that they finally resolved to part company with him. He either resigned or was dismissed.

He was succeeded by George Gill for the next nine years. Gill was probably not any more efficient that Battison in producing accounts on time but he appears to have been honest. During his tenure the great fire of Stony Stratford laid waste to a number of trust properties. ( A description here.) And in 1746 there was an outbreak of cattle distemper which caused a great loss in cattle stock.

Gill died in 1749 and was succeeded by Joseph Stephenson who died four years later before he could make any impact on the estate.

On March 27th 1754 the trustees appointed Thomas Quartley from Wicken as land agent and it appears that for the first time they had a man who could be relied upon to keep meticulous accounts and make annual reports. The rent books from his tenure still survive and are kept in the Bodleian archive. During his tenure there was a serious crop failure in 1757 which left some families in Wolverton and Stony Stratford destitute and starving – a reminder that 18th century society still had no mechanism for dealing with such emergencies. It was left to the vicar, Edmund Smith, to make the case and acordingly the trustees instructed the land agent to make payments to the vicar to provide bread for 139 poor persons on the manor.

Quartley died in 1766 and was succeeded by Henry Smith of Bicester, somewhat remote from Wolverton. Nevertheless he seems to have managed the estate competently as his relatively short tenure appears to have passed without incident. Upon his death he was succeeded by Thomas Harrison in 1773. Harrison, as I have discussed elsewhere, brought an altogether higher standard of profesionalism to the task and, in fact, moved on to the estate, filling, in many personal respects, the ancient role of “Lord of the Manor”.

It was this role, a traditional one in most villages, that was lost to Wolverton in 1713. Whether or not this was a good or bad thing depends upon your point of view. The trustees were remote figures, unknown to any except perhaps the tenants. The land agent was almost as detached until the arrival of Thomas Harrison who took a more direct interest in the estate. The long term impact was that Wolverton had no “gentry”living on the estate. There was a handful of middle class people in Stony Stratford and the vicar at Old Wolverton, together with a few farmers.

This state of affairs continued into the 19th century with the creation of Wolverton Station. A host of artisans moved into the town to swell the populations of Wolverton and Stony Stratford and a few professional people came along with them. But entirely absent from Wolverton’s history after 1713 was the presence of any ancient privileged family.

Social Responsibility in the Victorian Age

By the time of the opening of the new recreation grounds in 1885 (Wolverton Park) the L&NWR had a good reputation as a benevolent, if paternalistic employer. It did not start out this way. The London and Birmingham Railway Company understandably concentrated their efforts on getting the railway enterprise working efficiently and profitably. The creation of a new town was a necessary by product and not one which was given a great deal of thought. Even before the first terraced cottages were built around the new engine shed concerns were expressed, not about the quality of the housing but whether these houses would interfere with the window light for the workshop. Those first cottages on Garnett Street, Cooke Street and Walker Street were very basic and by the 1850s it was difficult to rent them to working families. They were demolished.

The fact is that nobody really understood the relationship between the worker’s well-being and their productivity. The lessons were eventually learned but the initiative for social improvement did not start in the Boardroom.

These initiatives came mostly from the Radcliffe Trustees who were by and large well-to-do 18th century gentlemen who saw it as their duty to take care of the people living on the Manor. Later history has tended to overlook their role and attribute most of these improvements to the railway company. Even after St George’s was opened The Times attributed everything to the railway company and the Secretary to the Trust, George Bramwell, had to write a stiffly worded letter of correction.

The new town had grown very quickly. Once the workshop and houses had been built on the original 8 acre site the trust sold a further 13 1/2 acres to the south for more housing and the second railway station. Within the space of two years a town had appeared which was approaching the population of Stony Stratford. There were a few shops and a pub but no other amenities.

During the bargaining for the additional land George Carr Glyn, the Chairman of the L&BR agreed to build a school on the one acre that the Trust provided on the corner of Creed Street. It was given on a 99 year lease at a peppercorn rent.

The negotiations for the church proved to be more difficult. There was a church at Old Wolverton but it was not adequate for such a large population. In addition, Henry Quartley, the vicar, was hostile to the new railway people. The Trust was initially willing to provide 2 1/2 acres for a church, vicarage and burial ground and endow a stipend for the incumbent with the expectation that the railway company would cover the cost of construction. In June 1841 Glyn offered £1,000 towards the cost of construction with the assumption that the Radcliffe Trust would pay for everything else. There was no agreement on this and as a temporary measure Glyn agreed to convert one of the schoolrooms into a temporary chapel and pay £50 a year towards the minister’s stipend. The Trust put up £100 for this purpose and the Reverend George Weight was hired immediately.

Matters drifted. The Railway Company considered the issue resolved and paid no further attention. However, the Trustees were keen to push towards a permanent solution and they met on 11th June 1842 to try to resolve things. The strongly worded minute reproduced below fairly states the case from their point of view.

The Radcliffe Trust
Minute of the meeting of 11th Jun 1842
            The Trustees again directed their attention to the peculiarly distressing state of the large assemblage of persons who are attracted to the Wolverton Station by the extensive commercial operations of the London & Birming­ham Railway Company but are unhappily destitute of the means of receiv­ing adequate spiritual instruction in consequence of there not having been as yet provided any sufficient place of worship.
            This circumstance having led the Trustees to revert to the subject regard­ing the erection of a church or episcopal chapel and a minister’s residence, on a site contiguous to the railway, they feel it a duty incumbent upon them to make a renewed representation to the Directors of the Railway Company and to refer to the resolutions of the Trustees dated r8th June r 840, a copy of which were at that time transmitted to the Directors, by which the Trustees declared their willingness to provide a site for a chapel, for a Minister’s residence and for a burying ground, as well as a permanent endowment for a Minister, and moreover to defray hereafter the expense of repairing the chapel and Minister’s House.
            To this offer the Trustees added the expression of their hope that the costs of erecting the Chapel and a Minister’s House would be provided for by the London & Birmingham Railway Company out of their funds or by voluntary contributions.
            The Trustees observe with regret that little has yet been done to meet the wants of the 1,500 persons at present representing the population of the Station at Wolverton.
            It appears that since the meeting of the Trustees in June 1841 and in consequence of the Resolutions then entered into, the Revd. George Weight has been nominated and licensed by the Bishop of Lincoln as the Chaplain of the Station.
            That a School Room capable of holding 250 persons has been there fitted up as a temporary place for the performance of divine service, but it is found to be very inconvenient and quite inadequate for the purpose.
            It is manifest therefore to the Trustees that every effort ought to be made to remove the evil by providing a becoming and suitable place of worship to be effected by building a plain but substantial chapel capable of holding 600 persons with a burial ground attached thereto and a house for the residence of the Minister.
            The Trustees cannot but entertain the belief as well as hope that the Railway Company will participate in this sentiment and will feel that inde­pendently of religious considerations, it would be even in a merely secular point of view most advantageous that the population which have settled at the Station should have afforded to them the comforts of religious con­solation and the benefit of receiving such spiritual instruction as is deemed to be essential even in the smallest and least populous parishes.
            The Trustees have therefore determined to make a proposal to the Direc­tors of the Railway, the acceptance of which will enable them with greater confidence to apply to the Court of Chancery for permission to devote a proportion of their Trust Funds to the accomplishment of so great and necessary an object.
            The Trustees calculate that the sum of £4,000 will be sufficient to build the Chapel, the Minister’s House, and the wall surrounding the burying ground.
            In addition therefore to what the Trustees expressed their willingness to do towards the attainment of these purposes …. they now propose to appropriate £2,000 out of the Trust Funds towards a Building Fund, and earnestly invite the Railway Company out of their Corporate Funds or by private subscriptions to contribute a similar sum with the assurance that as soon as the Railway Company are prepared to lodge in the hands of a Banker £2,000 the Trustees will immediately make an application. 

Presented with this resolution the L&BR agreed to put up £2,000. This money was paid to the Trust and work began in 1843 on the new church and vicarage. It was completed in May 1844.

The other feature of this side of Wolverton’s early life was the construction of the Reading Room which also doubled as a chapel for the Wesleyans. This building was erected beside the canal at the Railway Company’s expense.

Within a few years of the birth of the new town there were three buildings dedicated to the social, moral and intellectual improvement of the new population. Notice, however, the absence of government. Early Victorian governments were happy to pass Acts of Parliament which gave assent to various enterprises but would have no part in the funding or management of them. Such amenities as Wolverton had came from the paternalistic benificence of two private organizations.

The Radcliffe Trust and Wolverton – Part VI The Final Century

The arrival of the railways was a watershed moment for Wolverton. The old agricultural world which had sustained the manor for centuries was no longer truly viable. The Stony Stratford properties had been sold off in 1802 to redeem a £16,000 Land Tax. Land had been sold off for the new railway town (which continued to grow), there was now only one water mill on the estate. More alarming for the Trustees was the relative decline of agriculture as a primary wealth producer.

In 1847 a London surveyor, Henry Crawter, was engaged to survey the estate. He concluded that the Stacey Bushes farmhouse near Bradwell Brook was beyond repair and that a new farmhouse should be built at the centre of the farm. He advised that Park Farm was no longer a viable unit and that the land should be divided between Manor Farm and Wolverton House Farm. The pasture land known as Great Hodge should be divided between Stacey Bushes Farm and Brick Kiln Farm.

Accordingly Stacey Farm was built by Wolverton’s builder, Charles Aveline, and today it forms the nucleus of the Milton Keynes Development Museum. Park farmhouse was leased to James Edward McConnell, the Locomotive Superintendent, and subsequently to a succession of tenants. The house has been known as Wolverton Park since that time.

A further survey by Jeremiah Matthews in 1858 proposed that Wolverton House itself should be separated from the farm and leased as a country mansion. This, however, did not become possible until the Harrison family finally vacated the house in 1892.

This required the building of a new farmhouse for the land that had formerly been farmed from Wolverton House and in 1892 a new farm house was built beside some farm buildings and cottages at The Warren. This now became known as Warren Farm.

Stonebridge House Farm was itself rebuilt in 1855.

Agricultural prices continued to decline in the 19th century with some years of real hardship. Matters improved in the first two decades of the 20th century, only to slump again in the 1930s. Against this backdrop the pressure for Wolverton’s town expansion could not be ignored and between 1903 and 1906 more land was sold for housing development. The new streets thus created honoured three of the Radcliffe Trustees, Viscount Peel, the Earl of Jersey and Sir William Anson.

The demand continued, and Radcliffe Street was extended in 1928 and 1929. In the 1930s another 100 acres were sold to provide for new recreation grounds and Marina Drive and Gloucester Road. After the war they released another 174 acres which created the extension of Windsor Street, Furze Way and subsequently Southern Way, Woodland View and St John’s Crescent.

By 1966 the writing on the wall was plain. The government had decided on a new city development which would incorporate Wolverton and Bletchley and much of the land in between. The Wolverton Manor would be subject to compulsory purchase.

The agreed price for the entire estate, with the exception of Wolverton House, Wolverton Park and Wolverton Mill, was £900,000, and on September 29th 1970, all was conveyed to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation.  Wolverton House was sold to Buckinghamshire County Council and Wolverton Park to a private buyer. The Mill was retained, but I believe has been sold for development more recently.

1970 marked the end of the Manor’s history, which stretched back for more than 1,000 years and it also brought to an end the Trust’s involvement in the affairs of Wolverton, which had begun in 1713.

The memory is preserved in Radcliffe Street and in The Radcliffe School, created from a merger of Wolverton Grammar School and Wolverton Technical School in 1956. There are three, or possibly four, street names that have some connection with the Radcliffe Trust.

And that is the end of the story.

The Radcliffe Arms

The earliest demonstration of the rather chaotic planning that has characterised Wolverton throughout its history was the building of its first pub in an isolated location.

Wolverton’s first railway station was built to the north of the canal on the embankment. It was only a temporary affair and by 1840 they had built a new, permanent station, further south on railway property. In those two years, however, some momentous decisions had been made, probably in haste, which led to the construction and opening of the Radcliffe Arms.

Everybody was being a little too clever, it seems. The Radcliffe Trustees, upon selling the first 8 acres, had required the Railway Company to enter into a covenant that they would not build any tavern or public house on their land. They agreed to this and kept to it. In the meantime, the Trust, seeing a benefit for itself,  granted a lease of 6 acres to John Congreve, a Stony Stratford solicitor and Joseph Clare, the landlord of The Cock Hotel, for 63 years. Accordingly, they built stables, coach houses and a tap room for the sale of beer by 1839 and probably thought they would easily recoup their investment. The area we are talking about later became Wolverton Park.

The Railway Company, having little or no interest in this, built their permanent station, together with Refreshment Rooms, at the new site, and left the Radcliffe Arms isolated in a field. Congreve and Clare made representations to the Trustees, the ground rent for The Radcliffe Arms was reduced and they were provided with more land in a more suitable location to build The Royal Engineer. So within the space of two years, the new settlement acquired two Taverns.

The Radcliffe Arms did function for about 30 years and probably did enough business for the first two decades. Thereafter it became increasingly isolated from the town and you can see from the evidence of the censuses that business is falling off. By 1871 the buildings are used for residential purposes only and they were later torn down when the Recreation Park was developed in the 1880s.

It quickly acquired a rough reputation and far from being respectfully called The Radcliffe Arms was known as “Hell’s Kitchen”.

Hugh Miller, a Scottish traveller and writer recorded this first impression in 1845:
It was now nine o’clock.  I had intended passing the night in the inn at Wolverton, and then walking on in the morning to Olney, a distance of nine miles; but when I came to the inn, I found it all ablaze with light, and all astir with commotion.  Candles glanced in every window; and a thorough Babel of sound—singing, quarrelling, bell-ringing, thumping, stamping, and the clatter of  mugs and glasses issued from every apartment. [1]
On enquiry, it turned out that this was the eve of a prize fight between a Nottingham champion and a London fighter[2] so Miller walked to Newport Pagnell, armed with two pistols for protection, to seek better accommodation. However, he found the atmosphere just as riotous and pressed on to a village he called Skirvington (Sherington) where he at last found the peaceful night he sought. We may be surprised today that Miller readily undertook these four mile to Newport Pagnell on foot but the world in 1845 was not so far removed from the idea of walking to one’s destination. Rail travel had made speedy travel possible but walking for many was a natural and obvious choice, and this vignette may underscore the fact that the 1840s were transitional years for one’s mode of transport. It is also worth noting that rail travel may have significantly reduced the risk of robbery against the lone traveler.

It is difficult to generalize from this brief encounter with the Radcliffe Arms, however, we also have a record from Hugh Stowell Brown, who has left us a vivid account of his first (and probably only) experience:
I arrived on Friday evening, and went into the erecting-shed on Saturday morning; and at the dinner-hour had to pay my footing. This was done at the vile public-house close to the station — a house which went by the name of ‘ Hell’s Kitchen,’ a name it well deserved. An old proverb says, that if an Englishman settled on an uninhabited island the first building he would put up would be a public-house.  A public-house was the first thing built at Wolverton by the directors of the London and Birmingham There was no church, no school, no reading-room ; but there was  ‘ Hell’s Kitchen.’ And in that ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ that first afternoon, I had to pay about ten shillings for drink. ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ was a horrid place; always full of mechanics, navvies, labourers, tramps of all kinds; at least one hundred station-men spent there half the dinner-hour and perhaps half their wages.[3]

            “Paying his footing” probably meant, as the newest arrival, that he was expected to stand a round of drinks. Ten shillings for this young boy was 2 ½ week’s wages – an enormous sum for his initiation into the ranks of railwaymen, and on this evidence he must have discovered a lot of “friends” in “Hell’s Kitchen”.
             The turnover in landlords was quite high. The first tenants  were Richard and Priscilla Hipwell. In 1841 they were running the inn with two adult servants and a 15 year old boy.  After a few years they moved to a grocer’s shop in Brixworth and were succeeded at by Robert Lambeth Done. By 1851 it was managed by Joseph Gostlow and his wife Frances and appears to have been a larger establishment of staff. They employed a barmaid and four other servants and a nurse and it may be that these were the best years for the public house. They also had six lodgers or hotel guests. These I have described in my post The Comedians
            The establishment appeared to be of a similar size in 1861, this time managed by Berkley Hicks and wife Mary Joy. They had three small children a barman and three servants. In fact, it was the barman, Berkley’s younger brother, Henry A Hicks, who later went on to run the much more palatial Victoria Hotel on Church street a decade or so later. Four cottages surrounding the Inn are first listed in 1861 where they are described as Radcliffe Arms Cottages.
         The 1881 census still recorded residents here – all living in “Hell’s Kitchen”. There is no mention of the Radcliffe Arms or Radcliffe Arms cottages. If we go back to the 1840 map it is evident that there are at least two buildings in this location – one is the hotel, the other may be the cottages or it might equally be the stables or outbuildings. The Radcliffe Arms cottages only make an itemized appearance in the 1861 census. They repeat in the 1871 census. From 1841 to 1871 the Radcliffe Arms licensee and his staff and family and guests are recorded but not in 1881. As I have noted above the Ordnance Survey of 1880 shows only one building.

[1] Miller, Hugh. First Impressions: England and its People. Chapter XIIV. 1889.
[2] Sir Frank Markham gives a full and entertaining account of the prize fight that Hugh Miller stumbled upon. One boxers entourage had camped at The Swan in Newport Pagnell and the other at The Cock in Stony Stratford. All other hostelries were full to the brim. History of Milton Keynes, Vol 2. Luton, White Press, 1986, p. 85-88.
[3] Hugh Stowell Brown. Notes on my Life. Chapter IX. 1888.

The Radcliffe Trust – Part V: The Railway

While the Trustees had handled the building of the Grand Junction Canal 50 years earlier, in 1830 a momentous decision was upon them. Robert Stephenson’s new railway proposed to cut through the Wolverton estate for a distance of two miles.

On 21st February 1831, the Trustees met at the London home of Sir Robert Peel, to consider the implications of these proposals. They were not opposed to change on principle. They were well aware of the advantages for their tenants of the speedy transport of produce to London markets but they were also conscious of the damage to the land that would result from the embankments and the increased flooding risk from the proposed viaduct. On this occasion they declined their support.

A year later, after further investigation into the risks and benefits, and after being assured by Robert Stephenson that a fourth arch would be added to the viaduct to minimize flooding they gave their assent in June 1832. The bill was debated in Parliament and the Act was finally passed on May 6th 1833.

From this date it took a further five years before the line became a reality. Further negotiations led to the viaduct being expanded to six arches and the diversion of the river to follow a straighter course. (See plan of diversion here.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, this resulted in the demise of the ancient Mead Mill.

There were delays. The line had been completed to Denbigh Hall and from Rugby to Birmingham, so early passengers had to alight at Denbigh and be carried by coaches to Rugby before resuming their journey. The delay was largely caused by the Kilsby Tunnel, although the Wolverton Embankment and Viaduct was not without its engineering and construction problems. The line was complete on 17th September 1838. Wolverton had entered the industrial age.

The event was celebrated by

” a fete on a large scale. A very large assembly of spectators from the neighbourhood congregated at this place. At Stratford, booths and stalls were erected, and the place had all the characteristics of a large country fair. The road to the station was crowded with foot people and vehicles of every description.” (Northampton Herald. 22 Sep. 1838)

The watchers on that day were rewarded by the remarkable sight of a plume of smoke coming from a tall funnel moving across the fields to the south. And it was chugging towards them at an undreamt-of speed. It was a short train of two carriages only, which would explain why it had only taken two hours – an average of 25 mph. Regular trains in those first years took three hours and fifteen minutes to reach Wolverton.

Aboard, were George Glyn, the Chairman, Richard Creed, the Company Secretary, and Edward Bury, the Locomotive Superintendent, Robert Stephenson himself and the Duke of Sussex, one of Queen Victoria’s uncles.

A day for the history books.

The Radcliffe Trust – Part IV: The Farms

The manor, which the Radcliffe Trust took over in 1713, was still largely an agricultural estate, as it had been for at least 800 years. Change there had been: the growth of commercial activity at Stony Stratford in the Middle Ages, and the forced abandonment of the old Wolverton village in the 16th century – but agriculture remained at the core.

Radcliffe assumed several major tenancies, which continued for the early part of the 18th century. Richard Wodell held the major part, about 550 acres which included the land around Wolverton House and what later became Warren Farm. William Harding was the tenant of Stacey Bushes Farm, which at the tim amounted to 289 acres. James Brittain held the 276 acres on the west side of the estate and probably lived near to the brick kiln. William Swannell rented 243 acres at the northern end of the estate and Thomas Scott rented 147 acres around the stone bridge on the Newport Pagnell road. There were also a number of smaller holdings – mostly closer to Stony Stratford.

Thomas Harrison was appointed estate manager in 1872 and served in this capacity for 36 years. he was succeeded by his son, Richard, who then put in another 49 years in the job. For 85 years the Harrisons loom large in Wolverton affairs. Not only were they agents for the Trust but also substantial tenants. Thomas Harrison farmed the land largely based upon Wodell’s farm and between 1782-6 spent £1,840 rebuilding the farmhouse, which he named Wolverton House, and which still stands today. Harrison was paid an income from the Trustees as their agent and he also managed the Earl Spencer’s estates in Bradwell, so he was a man of some resources beyond that of his income from farming, and it is thought that he employed a steward or bailiff to manage the day-to-day affairs of the farm and house him at some farm buildings in The Warren, later to be known as Warren farm. Harrison was a member of a new breed of farmer emerging in the late 18th century – the gentleman farmer.

During this period other families with generational continuity were emerging – the Ratcliffe family at Stonebridge House Farm and Park Farm and the Wilkinsons at Brick Kiln farm.

In many respects the best years of agriculture were over by the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Food prices had risen, but rents had also risen by 14%. Grain prices reached their peak in 1812 and then began to fall and farmers everywhere struggled. Rent reductions of 10% were allowed between 1820-24 and again from 1829-36. Farm labourers wages fell and unemployment was high. Desperate people responded by burning hayricks and destroying farm machinery. Everyone suffered in one way or another. Richard Harrison, probably the wealthiest man on the manor, was a partner in the Stony Stratford Bank, which failed in 1820, and he was left with considerable debts. The decline continued throughout the 19th century. In 1800, 80% of the population earned their livlihood directly from agriculture. At the end of the century that figure was down to 4% – an astonishing social change.

We can look back now and see that the coming of the Railways could not have been better timed in the case of Wolverton. Men who had been on borderline wages of 6s. a week, could now find work at Wolverton Station for 18s. a week. Had the London to Birmingham line gone through Buckingham, as first planned, Wolverton would have further declined, Stony Stratford, having lost the coaching trade, would have become equally poor, and I would not be writing this today.